Yesterday I went back to Tsushima to see how it had changed in a year. Last year my good friend, Bruce Meyer Kenny and I found this abandoned village by accident. We hadn’t been looking for it and even when we found it we did not know its name or history. Now we do of course, now we know for example that it is highly radioactive and infamous; now we know that its hospital was the scene of troubling stupidity on the part of local officials who sent refugees from near the Daichi plant there to be looked after, leaving them to rest, for days, in radiation levels that were and still are impossibly dangerous for health.
Last year we found the speed of abandonment written photogenically in the date on newspapers outside the village store. Soon after the events of March 11th 2011 the whole village was abandoned and probably will never be inhabited again. It had been shocking a year ago. We wanted to go there again to see if it still was.
It was! Not solely for it’s decaying state or the beginnings of nature’s reclamation, which truthfully was a lot less than I had imagined. It was shocking for the fact that people had obviously been there, moved, collected, broken and stolen things. One very disturbing message was left for the owners of a house and notes and photos had also been posted to windows explaining the stories of the people no longer living there and asking any subsequent visitors to look for and care for pets left behind.
The biggest difference was the fact that a year ago we hadn’t had a Geiger counter and I remember not knowing exactly how dangerous the place was made any time outside feel reckless. What horrors were being carried on the wind were impossible to judge. This year the Geiger counter informed us incessantly of the need for us to go elsewhere. The urgency of the beeping unsettled me; the empty houses rattling in that same poisoned breeze and the over grown fields and gardens waved three metre high grasses at us in jungled whispers of contaminated chlorophyll that was simply terrifying.
I’m glad I went back though, so sad a place, so empty of all hopes of return. As the street lights came on in the dusk, lighting the way along lanes that people will never perhaps walk for pleasure again, it was was clear to me that this is still a story that needs to be told. The Fukushima people have lost so much in these hills.
I am glad we could measure the risks we took this time however, but the harrowing message I saw and the “beep! beep! beep!” of the Geiger counter were something it took quite a few drinks to get over that night.
More stock images of nuclear contaminated areas and recovery efforts in Fukushima at my archive here.
It may have escaped your notice that there has been a tsunami in Japan. To date it is known to have killed 6,911 people ; 10,692 are registered as still missing; 2,611 are injured and around 400,000 people have been forced from their damaged homes or had their houses disappear completely.
There is pain, real pain along the north east coast and yet, at the moment, all the attention is focused on the Tokyo Electric Company’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant where a cooling system failure, caused by the quake and exacerbated by the tsunami, has caused a week long series of fires, over heatings and explosions.
Of course the fear of radiation leaks is real: the reactor is exposed and over-heating, and problems such as explosions at these kind of places should not ever be taken lightly which the Government of Japan and the power generation companies there have sometimes been accused of doing when they are not covering up accidents completely. And yet the reporting of the nuclear contamination problems of Fukushima and the perceived threat they pose to Tokyo has been excessive to say the least. The Japanese government has even taken the foreign media to task about its sensationalist reporting, fearing that the constant barrage of rumour, hear-say and misinformation is stopping real efforts to inform people of any real dangers. More seriously too it is drawing the focus away from the people who have lost everything in a real, measurable and overwhelming tragedy on the tsunami coast.
When governments around the world spend millions evacuating their citizens from places that are considered, by expert accounts, not especially dangerous just to appease a bullying press or take part in some form of compassionate “keeping up with the Joneses”, this is money that could have been spent helping rescue, rebuilding and returning those areas of Japan that the events of March 11th unequivocally did affect.
Makes me angry.
Makes Daniel Kahl angry too.
The earthquake in Japan on March 11th is looking to be one of the worst in japanese history. By some reports it is the 5th strongest earthquake to hit the earth since 1900.
Anyway you look at it, it is pretty bad here at the moment. Not in Tokyo which is slowly coming back to normal despite what appears to be a regular series of after shocks and a threatening nuclear disaster in Fukushima just a couple of hundred kilometres upwind of us. One friend here commented last night that it was hardly worth getting out from under the table and indeed the streets are eerily quiet as people seem to be spending time with family and stocking up on emergency supplies.
Because there is a distinct difference to that normality these days: people may be out, it’s a Sunday of kids in the park and shopping but it is hard to ignore the news and reports coming from the north, the effects of the Tsunami killing perhaps tens of thousands of people and the knowledge that this very country, Japan, has moved 2.4 metres due to the severity of the earthquake.
There is a palpable feeling of foreboding. It feels like we are in an unlucky time and though no-one will outwardly admit it we are all waiting for the big one to hit Tokyo. I hope it doesn’t and the release of pressure that comes from one big earthquake would ordinarily preclude another big one arriving soon after. The problem is that Tokyo sits on a different fault(s) than the one that caused this quake and we cannot know yet the stress that existed there, or have been added to or reduced by the earthquake on Friday.
Wish the details of this disaster in this picture, that I took in a hotel lobby on Friday night, were still true.
Another earthquake hits as I write this.